Honoring the Fallen: Erath County Peace Officers Memorial pays respects to those who died in the line of duty

LeAnda Staebner
Stephenville Empire-Tribune

https://www.sacredpoems.com

Stephenville Police Chief Dan Harris Jr. addresses the crowd gathered for Tuesday's Erath County Peace Officers Memorial ceremony at the Paradigm Building.
A honor guard made up of officers from the Tarleton State University Police Department, Erath County Sheriff's Office, Stephenville Police Department and Dublin Police Department place a wreath in memory of those in law enforcement who have lost their lives in the line of duty during Tuesday's Erath County Peace Officers Memorial Service.
Rhonda Duckworth, whose grandfather W.A. Hail was a Tarleton State University officer who died in the line of duty in 1978, shared some words with those gathered at Tuesday's Erath County Peace Officers Memorial ceremony at the Paradigm Building.

Law enforcement officials from agencies across Erath County gathered with members of the community on Tuesday to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

The Erath County Peace Officers Memorial united officers from the Stephenville Police Department, Erath County Sheriff's Office, Tarleton State University Police Department and Dublin Police Department for a somber goal — remembering fallen heroes.

"May God bless their souls and may we always remember these fallen heroes and may we always take care of their families," said Stephenville Police Chief Dan Harris Jr. 

He said the ceremony was to honor the 23 Texas law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty in 2020, and also the 94 who died due to COVID-19-related complications, thanking all of them for their service and sacrifice.

"And a special thank you for all of those who go forth every single day willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in the protections of the citizens for this great city, this great county, this great state, and this great country," Harris said.

Pastor Ken May, the SPD chaplain, provided the invocation for Tuesday's service, focusing on the Bible verse John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."

Special speaker for the event was Rhonda Duckworth, whose grandfather, W.A. Hail, was a Tarleton State University officer, who suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 56 after a suspect chase. Hail died on Dec. 13, 1978.

"Every time I attend a memorial, my mind tends to wander back to the day my family said our final goodbye to our hero," Duckworth said, noting she was just 6 years old when her grandfather died.

She went on to describe the scene at his funeral, the walls of the church lined with fellow law enforcement officers and the cemetery filled with cars as those same officers attended the graveside service.

"There is a sense of peace that words cannot adequately describe knowing that today, we remember our fallen heroes with the same dignity and respect that local law enforcement showed my family in December 1978," Duckworth said.

In conclusion, she shared the poem "A Hero's Welcome," by Robert Longley:

"Time to come home dear brother

"Your tour of duty through

"You’ve given as much as anyone

"Could be expected to do

"Just a few steps further

"The smoke will start to clear

"Others here will guide you

"You have no need of fear

"You have not failed your brothers

"You clearly gave it all

"And through your selfless actions

"Others will hear the call

"So take your place of honor

"Among those who have gone before

"And know you will be remembered

"For now and evermore."

Following Duckworth's speech, Erath County Sheriff Matt Coates began the reading of the Fallen Heroes Roll Call, followed by a moment of silence in their honor.

An honor guard made up of representatives from the sheriff's office and Stephenville, Dublin and Tarleton police departments placed a wreath of remembrance followed by the playing of "Taps" by Tarleton student William Brown.

The ceremony concluded with TSU professor and SPD reserve officer Casey Heath playing "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes.